Holes pop up after so-called great recruiting classes age


Former Gator coach Ron Zook was looked at as a top recruiter, but there are holes in the great recruiting classes he put together.

JIM MATTHEWS/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Saturday, January 21, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 21, 2006 at 12:00 a.m.
During his tumultuous three years at Florida, the criticism swept over Ron Zook like a tsunami. But there was one aspect of his job that drew not even a ripple of complaint.
Recruiting. The guy could flat-out recruit. That was his strength. That was his reputation.
It was reflected in the annual recruiting rankings.
On paper, everything was good. Zook was the man.
His first UF class in 2002 was ranked 20th by Rivals.com despite the fact he had only a few short weeks to put it together in the wake of Steve Spurrier's stunning departure. He second class, which featured Chris Leak, Chad Jackson, Andre Caldwell and Marcus Thomas, zoomed up the charts all the way to No. 2 and his third class cracked the top 10, coming in at No. 7.
But, as we have come to realize over the years, recruiting rankings don't really mean much - and they certainly are not the most accurate way to judge a recruiting class.
Looking back now, based on performance on the field, Zook's three-year recruiting run wasn't as strong as it appeared when those rankings first came out. There are some obvious holes, although in fairness he wasn't given a fourth year to try to fill them.
That 2003 class that looked so strong and so complete three years ago has lost much of its luster. For almost every hit, there has been a miss. There is Leak, but then there is Justin Midgett. There is Thomas, but then there is Johnny Dingle and Eric Holcombe. There is Jackson, but then there is David Kenner.
Of the 26 prospects signed by Zook that year, 12 have gone on to be players (guys who have started games and made a major contribution) and 11 fall under the category of non-factor (guys who didn't qualify, transferred or have not played a significant role). The remaining three can be considered potential players.
The 2003 class illustrates how inexact recruiting can be - and how meaningless those rankings are that come out on national signing day.
Attrition, of course, is a natural part of the process. But there are aspects a coach can control, such as scouting and filling needs. This is where Zook's recruiting shows some holes.
In three years, Zook signed only seven linebackers, six cornerbacks and 13 offensive linemen.
Not coincidentally, the 2005 Gators had no depth at linebacker, cornerback and on the offensive line.
Urban Meyer and the new staff are trying to fill the holes with what many analysts are considering to be the No. 1 recruiting class in the nation. But, of course, we won't know how good this class is until, say, 2008 or 2009 - or beyond.
In discussing recruiting back in December, Meyer said you should expect a success rate of two-thirds at a school such as Florida - meaning if you sign 24 players, 16 should go on to be major contributors.
Under that guideline, Zook's three-year run hasn't quite lived up to the expectations and the signing-day rankings.
Of the 71 prospects signed by Zook and his staff, 28 could be considered players, 25 are non-factors and 18 have yet to be determined.
Here is a position-by-position breakdown of Zook's recruiting:

Quarterback

  • PLAYERS SIGNED: 2002 - Gavin Dickey, Patrick Dosh; 2003 - Chris Leak, Justin Midgett; 2004 - Cornelius Ingram.
  • WHO'S LEFT: Leak, a three-year starter. Dosh and Midgett transferred to other schools, Dickey has given up football to concentrate on baseball and Ingram has moved to tight end/receiver.
  • THE SKINNY: Zook signed the appropriate numbers, but attrition has left the Gators with only two scholarship quarterbacks - Leak and true freshman Tim Tebow (who will be signed by Meyer on Feb. 1) to compete in spring drills and figures to be the backup in 2006. The lack of depth will be a concern throughout the upcoming season.

    Running back

  • PLAYERS SIGNED: 2002 - Ciatrick Fason, Jimtavis Walker, DeShawn Wynn; 2003 - Skyler Thornton; 2004 - Markus Manson, Eric Rutledge.
  • WHO'S LEFT: Wynn and Manson at tailback and Rutledge at fullback. Fason left early for the NFL after the 2004 season, while Walker and Thornton transferred to other schools, citing a lack of playing time.
  • THE SKINNY: Wynn and Manson have both shown a lot of potential, but Wynn has struggled with injuries and Manson has done the same with consistency. Throw in Meyer recruit Kestahn Moore, who played as a true freshman last season, and the Gators have only three scholarship tailbacks heading into the spring.

    Wide receiver

  • PLAYERS SIGNED: 2002 - Dallas Baker, Jemalle Cornelius, Kenneth Tookes, Reggie Lewis; 2003 - Andre Caldwell, Chad Jackson; 2004 - Michael McIntosh, Derrick McPhearson.
  • WHO'S LEFT: Baker, Cornelius, Caldwell, Tookes and McIntosh. Lewis moved to cornerback last spring, Jackson is entering the NFL Draft this spring and McPhearson failed to qualify and signed with Zook at Illinois last February.
  • THE SKINNY: The Gators were so low in proven numbers that the injury to Caldwell early last season had a devastating effect on the passing game through much of 2005. Baker, Cornelius and Caldwell will give the Gators a very good top three in 2006, but again, the numbers are low for an offense that likes to play four and five wide receivers at a time.

    Tight end

  • PLAYERS SIGNED: 2002 - None; 2003 - David Kenner; 2004 - Tate Casey, Dane Guthrie, Markell Thompson.
  • WHO'S LEFT: Casey. Kenner and Thompson were junior college transfers who did not pan out and Guthrie transferred to Arizona State after the 2004 season.
  • THE SKINNY: The Gators had only one scholarship tight end on the roster last season - Casey. In 2006, he will get some backup help from Ingram, who made the switch from quarterback before the Outback Bowl and has encouraged the coaches with his size and athletic ability.

    Offensive line

  • PLAYERS SIGNED: 2002 - Todd Bunce, Ryan Carter, Randy Hand; 2003 - Billy Griffin, Anthony Guerrero, Carlton Medder, Steve Rissler, Tavares Washington; 2004 - Michael Brown, Drew Miller, Jim Tartt, Phil Trautwein, Jason Watkins.
  • WHO'S LEFT: Bunce, Medder, Rissler, Miller, Tartt, Trautwein and Watkins. Carter had to quit football because of a chronic back problem, Griffin and Guerrero were junior college transfer who played limited roles in 2003 and 2004, Brown has decided to transfer, while Hand and Washington used up their eligibility.
  • THE SKINNY: Zook recruits Rissler, Miller, Tartt and Trautwein figure to make up four of the starting five on the 2006 line. The coaches also like the potential of Watkins. Like it was this past season, depth remains a major concern because of the lack of overall numbers remaining from these three recruiting classes.

    Defensive end

  • PLAYERS SIGNED: 2002 - Steven Harris, Ray McDonald, MacKenzie Pierre; 2003 - Joe Cohen, Johnny Dingle, Tranell Morant, Jarvis Moss, Julian Riley; 2004 - Derrick Harvey, Mike Mangold, Jeremy Mincey.
  • WHO'S LEFT: McDonald, Pierre, Cohen, Moss and Harvey. Harris moved to defensive tackle, where he is a starter, Dingle, Morant and Riley transferred to other schools, Dingle and Mangold failed to qualify academically and Mincey, a key performer and team captain this past season, used up his eligibility.
  • THE SKINNY: This is a position of strength for Zook. The projected starters and backups at both end positions in 2006 are Zook recruits.
    Defensive tackle
  • PLAYERS SIGNED: 2002 - None; 2003 - Michael Hill, Eric Holcombe, Clint McMillan, Marcus Thomas; 2004 - Brandon Daniel.
  • WHO'S LEFT: Thomas, McMillan and Daniel. Hill transferred to another school this past summer and Holcombe was a junior college transfer who did not see any significant playing time in his two years at UF.
  • THE SKINNY: Getting shut out here left a big hole in Zook's first class and the Gators have been trying to catch up ever since. Zook signed four tackles the following year, but Holcombe was a bust and Hill, a promising prospect, left in the spring after Zook was fired. Getting Thomas away from FSU (a school he committed to early in the recruiting process) was one of Zook's biggest coups.

    Linebacker

  • PLAYERS SIGNED: 2002 - Taurean Charles, Channing Crowder, Brian Crum; 2003 - Earl Everett, Howard Lingard; 2004 - Javier Estopinan, Brandon Siler.
  • WHO'S LEFT: Crum, Everett, Siler. Charles was dismissed from the team for off-the-field incidents, Lingard quit the team and Estopinan was moved to defensive tackle last spring.
  • THE SKINNY: Zook signed some big-time stars in Crowder, Siler and Everett, but he simply didn't sign enough linebackers over the three-year period, leaving the Gators with a serious lack of numbers at the three linebacker positions. Charles was a highly rated prospect coming out of Miami, but he didn't show much before he was booted.

    Cornerback

  • PLAYERS SIGNED: 2002 - Jermaine McCollum, Tremaine McCollum; 2003 - Reynaldo Hill, Dee Webb; 2004 - Dawayne Grace, McIntosh Nicolas.
  • WHO'S LEFT: Jermaine and Tremaine McCollum. Hill, a junior college transfer, is now starting in the NFL with the Tennessee Titans, Webb is departing early for the NFL this spring, Grace was dismissed from the team and Nicholas failed to qualify academically.
  • THE SKINNY: This is pretty much a disaster area. Over the three-year period, Zook signed only two future starters in Hill and Webb and Hill didn't start showing promise until midway through his senior season. The McCollums have basically been special teams players and Zook pretty much whiffed in 2004.
    Safety
  • PLAYERS SIGNED: 2002 - Nick Brooks, Terrence Holmes; 2003 - Reggie Nelson; 2004 - Kyle Jackson, Tony Joiner.
  • WHO'S LEFT: Brooks, Holmes, Nelson, Jackson and Joiner.
  • THE SKINNY: Meyer gets credit for signing Nelson a year ago, but it was Zook who first signed Nelson back in 2003. Nelson, Jackson and Joiner give the Gators three safeties who showed last season they can play and this position appears solid heading into 2006.
    Robbie Andreu can be reached at 352-374-5022 or andreur@gvillesun.com
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